Flatbear/Brighton MA/Record Low/Robby Schiller @The Frequency August 1, 2009
When Flatbear was recording their debut full-length Flying Days, lead singer and songwriter Jentri Colello kept asking that her vocals be turned down in the mix. Most singers want to be the center of attention, but not Colello. She views her voice as another instrument and not as the focus. She used the same logic in switching their name to Flatbear after they decided not to renew their contract with the label that released their EP. She was never comfortable calling what she viewed as a collective by her name, and wanted everyone in the band to receive equal attention. While that’s all very noble and may very well work on record, it probably isn’t the best idea for a live show.
“I’ve turned into Bricco,” she laughed as she handed me a flier several weeks ago, referring to the Blueheels’ lead guitarist and tireless promoter. Her aggressive campaigning paid off, and an impressive crowd packed the Frequency on Saturday night. Problem is, with her hypnotic voice just another instrument, the audience volume increased over the length of their set, especially in the back of the room. She’s never been a particularly outgoing front woman, preferring her songs sell themselves. But tonight’s show may have been in need of an agitator. In fact, even though she had announced the last song, a new one, adding with a smile that it may be a mistake, the audience only belatedly realized it was the end of their set and didn’t cheer for an encore until the band had started packing up.
It was an anticlimactic and vaguely uncomfortable way to end what had been a pretty solid show. The band sounded as practiced as I’ve heard them, and if there were any train wrecks they certainly weren’t apparent to the audience. Josh Harty had left his clarinet at home, which is probably a good thing. While his playing is certainly endearing, it isn’t particularly good. He’s much better in his role as the consummate sideman—his harmony vocals are perfect and his guitar playing impeccable, the singsong voice of his electric guitar seamless with the music. Percussion isn’t drummer Phil Feutz’s first language, which makes his playing intriguing and unexpected; while Tony Messinger in his dual role plays as much melody on his bass as he does when playing keyboards.
The set list went back to some of the very first songs I’d heard her play. “Cannonballs” and “Black Daisies,” which appeared on the EP, were often a part of her short sets at the Local. Almost as old are “Can’t Find It” with its tinkling keyboard interludes and the emotional title track, both of which are on the new release. While the latter may be about her father (a pilot), or a lover, or neither, I’ve never had any doubt about “Who You Are and When.” “Do you even mean the words that you’ve sung, to so many people at the top of your lungs” could only be about Blueheels’ front man Robby Schiller. Since he opened the show tonight, I think it is safe to say they have worked things out and seem destined to live uneasily happily ever after.
The other two bands on the bill made the drive up from Chicago to play this show. The Record Low, with their two-guitar, no bass, fuzz-and-feedback attack, was powerfully entertaining, and Brighton MA’s emo-pop rounded out the night nicely. The fact that either of these bands could have headlined their own show here was quite a compliment to Flatbear. With the release of Flying Days they’ll probably get pretty used to those.